Holy Sonnets, Death Be Not Proud Poem Summary and Line by Line Analysis by John Donne in English


The speaker of this poem, John Donne criticizes Death, one of his enemies. Most people fear this enemy, yet in this sonnet, the speaker reprimands it. Speaking to Death in this manner shows that the speaker is not terrified of it and does not believe that Death should be so arrogant in himself. 

About The Poet

John Donne was an English poet, scholar, soldier, and secretary who subsequently joined the Church of England as a cleric. He was appointed Dean of London’s St. Paul’s Cathedral under royal patronage. He is regarded as the foremost poet who represents the metaphysical poets.

Rhyme Scheme

The rhyme scheme of the first and second quatrains is abca, for the remaining few lines it is ababcc.

Lines 1-4

Thou hast made me, and shall thy work decay?
Repair me now, for now mine end doth haste,
I run to death, and death meets me as fast,
And all my pleasures are like yesterday;

In the first  stanza of Holy Sonnet, John Donne, the speaker addresses his Almighty. He seems perplexed that the great Divine Beloved could create someone like him and then enable that creature to decay and despair. After acknowledging that he believes his life is coming to an end, that he appears to be dying soon, and that he can no longer enjoy living as he always did before this time of aging and sickness, he then asks his Heavenly Father to make him healthy.

Lines 5-8

I dare not move my dim eyes any way,
Despair behind, and death before doth cast
Such terror, and my feebled flesh doth waste
By sin in it, which it towards hell doth weigh.

According to the speaker, he no longer has the confidence to look around him out of fear of being reminded of his sorrow and the fact that death is drawing near. He is terrified because he knows the end is near. Due to the sins he committed throughout his lifetime, his skin has become frail. Because of his lifetime of carelessness and constant indulgence in physical pleasure, the speaker even fears that he will be banished to hell. He is still on the verge of taking accountability for his fate, but he still feels the needs to confess to his Divine Lord and ask for his pardon and compensation.

Lines 9-14

Only thou art above, and when towards thee
By thy leave I can look, I rise again;
But our old subtle foe so tempteth me,
That not one hour I can myself sustain;
Thy grace may wing me to prevent his art,
And thou like adamant draw mine iron heart.

The speaker acknowledges that his Divine Beloved still has ultimate authority over his life, choices, and destiny. He places the Creator above all and implies that he can only look safely in the direction of the Almighty. He discovers that he may at least partially recover when he embraces the presence of his Creator. The speaker is aware that in order to remain wrapped in the arms of the Divine, he must maintain his mind above the physical boundaries.

He tries to stay spiritually focused, yet he still has trouble. The only thing that will be able to stop Satan from casting his spell on the speaker is the Heavenly Father’s intervention. The only one who can draw and hold the speaker’s attention is the Divine Beloved.